Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Economy - Stupid?

I took college courses in both micro- and macro- economics. Since then I have read a number of books on economic policy. I pay attention to the debates on economic policy. If I understand one dominant position in current policy debate, the primary obstacle to economic growth and progress is government taxation and regulation. If only we will free up more money for businesses and corporations, they will expand and hire, putting people back to work.

Forgive me for being puzzled, then, when I read this story last week in The Minneapolis Star and Tribune. Medtronic, a Minnesota-based company, earned $924 million for the quarter ending January 28. This represents earnings of 86 cents per share, and compares to earnings of $831 million or 75 cents per share for the same period last year. According to the story, analysts were expecting the company to earn 84 cents per share, so this seems good news. What puzzles me is the other part of the story. Medtronic announced that it will reduce its workforce by 4 to 5 percent or 1,500 to 2,000 positions.

Higher profits and layoffs. That isn’t supposed to be how it works. I know that things are more complicated than the simple models in economic courses or in public policy debates. The story indicated that Medtronic’s earnings were based on lower taxes and that sales had declined in this quarter. Companies need to look to the future and not just to the past. But if the matter is more complicated, then why are we feed the story that all we need to do is free up more money for corporations and they will hire? Why are taxes singled out as the primary reason companies don’t hire? Am I just economically ignorant?

I am not singling out Medtronic for bad behavior. From what I know of the company, it has been a pretty good corporate citizen. What I question is the way our system seems skewed toward increasing profits at the cost of employment. Granted companies need to show profits to exist, is increasing profit the single bottom line to be considered? Last month an article in The Atlantic noted that the top twenty-five hedge fund managers earned, on average, one billion dollars in 2009. This while unemployment remains uncomfortably high.

I yearn for a richer debate on the place of profits in our economic system. I yearn for a richer debate on social policies that will combine to help companies be profitable while providing for the kind of public services and infrastructure that prepare our citizens for productive participation in our economy and a safety net for those on the margins. Simply slashing taxes, without considering more complex issues about profits and public and private good, doesn’t seem to be the prudent way forward, or maybe when it comes to the economy I am just stupid.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Sunday, February 20, 2011


Last week on Minnesota Public Radio, Kerri Miller hosted a show in which the question was desert island books and music. What one book and what one cd would you take with you to a desert island? I have a difficult time with that question. There are so many books I appreciate. There is so much music that I love. I was listening while driving to the hospital to make a pastoral visit, so I did not have that much time to play with this. In the time I had, I chose Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass and Ken Burn’s Jazz (a bit of stretch of the rules as this is a 5 cd set). I am not sure I would stay with these choices, but I think I could live on a desert island with them.

Today at my church, a church member and friend, Anita Zager, shared with our adult Faith Forum her experiences with books, growing up with them and as the owner of an independent book store which she has just closed. Duluth will miss Northern Lights Books, and Anita’s generous spirit as a book store owner who is also a book lover. Anita reflected on her reasons for getting into the book business and on some of the factors which make independent book stores a challenge at this moment. The emergence of e-books and e-readers is dramatically changing the book business.

As important and meaningful as these reflections were, I particularly enjoyed her sharing her life in reading with us. She offered a more extensive list than a desert island pick, and she gave me permission to share her list here. I offer it to you with gratitude for Anita’s work and love of literature. I offer it to you to spark your own reflections on your life in books.

Anita Zager’s Reading Life
Nancy Drew
Boxcar Children
Charles Dickens
Chaim Potok
Classics – Shakespeare, Greek Mythology – High School

Confirmation – Biblical Literacy
College – Old & New Testament Classes
Barclay Bible Study Series taught by Bev Ramstad
Dakota Kathleen Norris
When Bad Things Happen to Good People Harold S. Kushner
Man’s Search for Meaning Victor Frankl
Let Your Life Speak Parker Palmer
Siddartha Herman Hesse
Christianity For the Rest of Us Diana Butler Bass

Sigurd Olson – Singing Wilderness, Listening Point, etc.
Eric Sevareid, Canoeing With the Cree
Grace Lee Nute – Voyageur’s Highway, etc.

The Long Walk – Slavomir Rawicz
Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson

To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress Sijie Dai
Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials Trilogy”
Harry Potter

Tony Hillerman
British Classics
Scandinavian Noir
Colin Cotterill (Coroner’s Lunch)
William Kent Krueger

Historical Fiction
Patrick O’Brien
Dorothy Dunnett “Lymond Chronicles”

So what’s on your list?

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, February 4, 2011

Silent as Stone Or?

What to write about? Sometimes ideas pour out so fast it is all you can do to catch up and put them down. Sometimes the muses are as silent as stone. Things have been kind of quiet inside, so I thought I would share a few things I have encountered along the reading way.

Doing the right thing, even out of duty, changes souls.
Charles Foster, The Sacred Journey (56)

Be comforted that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.
Paul Harding, Tinkers (72)

A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
Albert Camus, The Essential Writings (13)

A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. Flannery O’ Connor

At first I thought of these as random and desperate, but some pattern emerges for me reading them together like this. Maybe an adult faith is one that understands and feels the complexity of the world, its heartaches and confusions, and yet persists in doing the right thing, in seeking to shape the soul, in searching for those images that open the heart to the beauty of the world.

With Faith and With Feathers,